“Architecture is better than its reputation!” by Ulf Meyer
Europacity will be the first impression of Berlin for millions of visitors and is therefore an important calling card,” explain the planners from the Cologne-based architectural firm ASTOC. They were the winners of the competition for the urbanisation of the former freight station area and have a prominent track record, demonstrated in their designs for Hamburg’s HafenCity. According to ASTOC founder Markus Neppl, their aim was not to design a “clean model city”, but a vibrant neighbourhood. Europacity was to become a fully-fledged living district linking East and West and celebrating Berlin's new position at the heart of Europe. The different architectural designs that characterise Berlin's newest district can now be experienced for the first time. Regula Lüscher, who as Senate Building Director had political responsibility for Europacity, appreciates the architectural quality of many of the buildings.
To Lüscher, cube berlin office building on the southern forecourt of the central railway station seems, in her words, “abstract and scaleless, like a sculpture on which the storeys are barely legible”. The solitaire with its “reflective pleated dress” (Lüscher) next to the station solitaire is “an eye-catcher”, says the Zurich architect, “constantly assuming new appearances depending on the light and weather”. Cube berlin by CA Immo is based on a design by the Cologne-based architect Oswald Matthias Ungers, who went down in German post-war architectural history as the master of the square. The neighbourhood to the west of the building has a mix of stone and mineral façades, against which the glass cube berlin stands out. However, for the former Senate Building Director, it lacks “outward charisma”; for her, “the abstraction prevents dialogue” with the urban space. Even a canopy would destroy the clear view. Despite the deep floor plans, there is no atrium in cube berlin. The reflective cube berlin by the Copenhagen-based architects 3XN has a photogenically jagged glass façade. In her opinion, many contemporary Danish architects can design “lightly, inclusively, democratically”. However, the façade is not just a formal gimmick because the tilted glass surfaces are only the outer shell of a double-skin façade; the hinged windows of the inner layer provide natural ventilation to the ten office floors.
The office tower on Europaplatz, where KPMG will set up its Berlin headquarters in future, is the tallest tower and "point de vue" in Europacity. Lüscher is relieved to see that the "promise of the renderings" has been fulfilled in reality. Towards the top, the tower façade becomes "glassier" with "refined undulation", as Lüscher calls it. Together with the Tour Total and 50Hertz tower next door, the tower forms a trio, a triad on the plaza and a prelude to Europacity. Since 2012, the 70 m high Tour Total, designed by Berlin-based architects Barkow Leibinger, has marked Europacity on the skyline. The headquarters of the network operator 50Hertz was then added by Graz-based LOVE architecture. The third high-rise is now being built above the tunnel of the S 21 light railway line by CA Immo, one of Europacity’s largest investors, according to the design by Munich-based Allmann Sattler Wappner Architekten. They let the tower grow out of a sculpturally profiled base and make it smoother, more transparent and more abstract with increasing height. For this high point, Lüscher speaks of "noble elegance" and "appropriate independence in the triad of profile-forming high-rises on the site".
The Tour Total is “quiet”, says Lüscher. The architecture is “subtle and delicate and only reveals its secret at a second glance”. She describes the French company’s headquarters as “restrained expressionism that ties in with modernism”, which was a good motif for Quartier Heidestrasse. The plinth construction with metal pilaster strips varies the theme of the diagonal illusion created by the façade’s curves. From an oblique perspective, the façade appears solid, but from a different angle appears transparent and “almost kinetic”, Lüscher notes.
Conversely, the 50Hertz tower next door has a “pictorial design”, as Lüscher calls it; it is an “architecture parlante” that turns electric current into a motif. The building houses modern, open workspace with very few columns, as the diagonal supporting structure has been turned inside out. Together, the three high-rises create a “business crown” that marks the southern end of Heidestrasse, explains the former Senate Building Director.
The QH Core building in Quartier Heidestrasse, built by Taurecon Real Estate Consulting GmbH, is a metropolitan building offering a mix of residential, commercial and retail space, a “Berlin mix of living and working space”, describes Lüscher. Its design “has immense power”. Facing the street is a large supermarket, and the footbridge that will cross over the tracks to Lehrter Strasse in future will sit to its rear. On neighbouring Dreiecksplatz, the QH Core has a striking façade. The “heart” of the quarter with its façades, brick arcades and porticos was designed by Berlin-based ROBERTNEUNTM Architects. Lüscher is particularly enthusiastic about “the choice of materials as a reminder of the site's industrial past”. The heroes of the Berlin building group movement from the ROBERTNEUNTM studio designed the block with 170 apartments, whilst next door a long block is being built with nine buildings including five towers of up to 14 storeys in height according to a design by the Zurich-based EM2N- Architekten studio. In future, its prefabricated concrete elemental façades will be viewed by thousands of people every day as their trains pass by.
The Weidt Park Corner (WPC) tower, built by DWI Grundbesitz, was designed by celebrated Berlin architect Volker Staab, famous for his museum buildings. The tower stands on the central square of Europacity. Its tripartite division into plinth, central zone and roof is the basis for a gradual refinement of the façade. As the building increases in height, the wide prefabricated concrete elements give way to narrower anodised aluminium frames. Towards the square, this refinement achieves its strongest effect from the powerful plinth storey to the finely structured high-rise façade. In Lüscher's opinion, the “corner formation is the most striking feature of the design” today. Along Heidestrasse, the building looks like an “L”, but viewed from the square it looks like a tower. The southern side of the square has a mix of building heights, and the WPC is the tallest building and the only commercial building on Otto-Weidt-Platz. A “slice” of it faces towards the main square, while the section along the street follows the eaves line of the adjacent residential buildings.
The Ernst Basler + Partner AG company headquarters, designed by the Zurich-based architects Miller Maranta, was the first building block on the Kunst-Campus. Situated on the Berlin-Spandau canal, the office building appeals to Lüscher because of its “timeless urban elegance” and “interpretation of the duality of the waterfront and the square”. Lüscher praises the “organically curved stairs and the quality of the floor plans” as well as the “design of the ground floor, which stages the café to both the water and the square side”.
Looking back on the years in which Lüscher was responsible for Europacity, she sums up: “The architecture, the hardware of a neighbourhood, is one thing. More than 50 % of the quality of a new urban neighbourhood depends on operations,” Lüscher believes. Building mass alone does not guarantee an urban experience because neighbourhoods are brought to life through their social mix, surprising public spaces, contrasts and architectural diversity.
Otto-Weidt-Platz is still at the planning stage. With alengthof100mandadepthof40m, it is one of the largest squares in Europacity. This will create a high-quality urban space for residents and tourists alike with many shops, cafés and restaurants. It will be a place where people like to meet and come together.
Arriving at the Kunst-Campus behind the Hamburger Bahnhof railway station, Lüscher greets restaurateur Reinhard Bär in his eponymous restaurant. They still know each other from the time when Lüscher worked at Köllnischer Park and Reinhard ran his “Chefetage” restaurant on Inselstrasse. Lüscher remembers it fondly, as she does her time as Senate Building Director.
That was a few months ago now. During this time she has received a few approaches to re-join building authorities. Regula Lüscher has declined these offers with thanks. “I have worked long enough in public administrations and authorities. Younger people are supposed to do that now; they also have younger networks,” she says, symbolically passing the baton to the next generation. Despite her dual citizenship, she also had to make arrangements to move from Berlin back to Switzerland and Zurich. After intensive years in Berlin, a “working trip” will soon take Regula Lüscher to Denmark. “I'm going to visit an art professor and get back into painting,” she reveals. And Berlin? “Berlin will always be my second home.” Perhaps we can welcome her soon to an exhibition in Europacity.